Published Sep 01, 2001The new spy thriller/romance from Michael Apted ("The World Is Not Enough," "Gorillas In The Mist") manages to make compelling viewing out of a love affair between a mathematician and a file clerk. Based on the novel by Robert Harris and set against the backdrop of World War Two, "Enigma" follows the story of British code breaker who must figure out the Nazi's naval code in order to save a huge convoy of supply ships, while dealing with rejection from a woman with whom he has fallen in love.
Dougray Scott gives an edgy performance as Tom Jericho, the brilliant but troubled code breaker. The film opens with his return to Bletchley Park, a town north of London where the British intelligence houses its code breaking activities. Jericho has been away after suffering a nervous breakdown that was ostensibly caused by his work but was actually because of his short-lived romance with Claire, played by Saffron Burrows. He soon finds out that Claire has disappeared which only adds to anguish. Kate Winslett plays Claire's roommate Hester and is one of the film's high points. She provides some comic relief as Jericho's sleuthing partner. Unfortunately she was underused and the film suffers as a result. Jeremy Northam as the suave intelligence agent investigating Claire's disappearance is another of the film's strong points. He relentlessly hounds the haggard Jericho about his relationship while remaining as polite as a mum at tea time.
"Enigma" was produced by Mick Jagger's Jagged Films, with Jagger and Lorne Michaels ("Saturday Night Live") as producers. Jagger also makes a very brief cameo as an officer with a couple of ladies on his arms. The photography by cinematographer Seamus McGarvey is beautiful to look at, especially the scenes the take place in the middle of the ocean. The design is also very authentic, with great attention paid to the smallest details.
The story gets a little hard to follow at times, especially if you're not a numbers person. One of the other problems is that the intensity of Jericho's love for Claire is never properly explained. Their relationship is too short-lived for it to be plausible for Jericho to have a breakdown because of her. And the inevitable romance between Jericho and Hester seems out of place especially given his obsession with Claire. The chemistry between the two works well though given they are the strongest actors in the film. Even though the film is far from perfect, it's good to see another side of the Second World War, especially given the battle-heavy blockbusters of the past couple of years.